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Return to Work (RTW) and Operational Integration Management (OIM)

The way from treatment to re-integration

The longer a person is absent because of illness, the more difficult is their return to work. A networked RTW process between internal and external players contributes to people returning to work in a timely and sustainable manner

Return to work (RTW) and operational integration management (OIM) © Uwe Völkner, Fotoagentur FOX

The term "return to work" stands for structures, actions and activities that enable an early return to work after long-term sickness This requires, above all, cooperation between key workplace players and treating physicians and therapists.

Many companies have recognised and understood the signs of the times and put great emphasis on cross-company networked health management. Stay at Work and Return to Work are two sides of one coin: approaches for prevention, early detection and reintegration should interlock here effectively.

Contents and aims of an RTW process

The focus of a comprehensive RTW process is on returning employees and their motivation to return: the process is a dialogue-oriented aiming understanding between the treatingphysicians, therapists, those affected and key workplace players. It starts already with the work incapacity, is part of the treatment and therapy, and ends with the return to work.

RTW is a multidimensional process that promotes the development of workplace-oriented health care and rehabilitation networks. An example of this is "psychosomatic consultations in the workplace". RTW is therefore more than operational integration management.

The main targets of a coordinated RTW process are:

  • more favourable disease progressions and
  • a smooth return.

From the point of view of those affected, the RTW process is an essential aspect of coping with the disease. With regard to the treatment of those affected, it is medical-therapeutic support, psychosocial counselling, and sometimes coaching.

Seen from an operational point of view, it is a process of understanding the conditions for return, of the organisation of working conditions and also a process of organisational development. Further informations can be found in our page on workplace health management.

Above all, a professional RTW coordination, an early contact between the treating physicians and therapists and key workplace players, as well as the social support from colleagues and supervisors, are relevant factors for a successful reintegration.

Operational integration management (Betriebliches Eingliederungsmanagement, BEM) is a statutory obligation

Since 2004, employers have been obliged to offer operational integration management (BEM) to employees who have been on sick leave for a long period in time. The aim of BEM is to maintain workability and employability.

The statutory basis for BEM is section 84 (2) of the Ninth Book of the Social Security Code (SGB IX).

This stipulates that an employer must offer BEM to all employees who are uninterrupted or repeatedly unable to work for more than six weeks within a year.

Operational integration management (BEM) as a systemic oriented process

Operational integration management (BEM) stands for individual case management, team and organisation development. BEM aims to maintain the good health and the best possible workability. It contributes to:

  • overcoming existing work incapacity,
  • preventing renewed work incapacity and
  • maintaining and supporting the workability in the long term.

Systemic oriented BEM operates in four levels of the workability:

  • on the medical level with a view to the maintenance of performance,
  • on the mental level with a view to motivation and self-effectiveness,
  • on the social level with a view to support through professional helpers, supervisors and colleagues, and
  • on the company level with a view to the development of support structures and the organisation of work requirements and/or conditions.

An appropriately organised BEM process enables early diagnosis and rehabilitation to be interrelated to one another which is particulary important in the case of repeated work incapacity when company support is organised at an early stage.. In addition, BEM experiences can be used to prevent chronic diseases.

Course of an BEM process

A systematic approach is recommended in order to be able to implement operational integration management successfully. The following steps are to be taken into consideration:

  1. Register those entitled to BEM
  2. Take contact
  3. Face-to-face conversations to clarify the starting situation
  4. In-depth analyses on working conditions, resources and restrictions
  5. Agreement on the conditions for return and the accompanying actions
  6. Support for reintegration through feedback and coaching sessions
  7. Conclusion and final discussions on sustainability.